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Everything you need to know about mandelic acid

The array of exfoliating acids makes choosing one difficult. Cue this explainer to help you discover why you should add mandelic acid to your arsenal

Here's why this gentle but effective acid is great for treating blemishes, pigmentation, acne and more...

What is mandelic acid?

Naturally derived from bitter almonds, mandelic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). Like other AHAs, it works by increasing cell turnover, making it an excellent way to chemically exfoliate the skin and improve skin texture. It also stimulates collagen production, meaning it helps with anti-ageing to improve skin tone and reduce the appearance of fine lines.

What are the main benefits of madelic acid? 

Clinically proven to have antibacterial properties and with its high lipid-solubility, mandelic acid is already a firm favourite amongst acne-suffers. Not only does it inhibit new acne-causing bacterial growth, but regular use also helps control oil production, reduce pore size and breaks down the bonds that hold dead skin cells together to unclog pores and tackle existing acne.

Its large molecular size means it can’t penetrate the skin as deeply, making it an excellent choice for those with sensitive skin.

“Mandelic acid is one of the largest alpha-hydroxy acids,” says EV Editorial Panel member, Surgeon and Beauty Scientist, Dr Jonquille Chantrey. “So, it penetrates the epidermis slower and more uniformly than other acids.” This means the chances of irritation or redness are much lower compared to other acids such as glycolic (which is half the molecular size in comparison). Its gentleness also makes it the go-to acid for Black and brown skin tones too.

“It’s less likely to cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, so it’s ideal for skin of colour,” says EV Expert and Clinical Director of Ashley Aesthetics, Dr Emmaline Ashley. Its ability to encourage cell turnover helps to diminish the appearance of existing pigmentation damage, too.

How should mandelic acid be used?

As with other AHAs, mandelic acid should be applied to clean skin. Use it 2-3 times a week and layer with hydrating hyaluronic acid or brightening vitamin C.

Although, Dr Ashley advises: “Don’t use multiple different AHAs at the same time as there’s no additional benefit and you’re increasing the likelihood of skin irritation.”

You should also avoid using retinol products when using AHAs as this could cause dryness and irritate the skin. It’s also a good idea to top up on sun protection. “Good sunscreen use should be a cornerstone of your daily skincare routine, but especially so if using an AHA,” says Dr Ashley. That’s because, as with all exfoliant use, there is potential for increased sun sensitivity. However, using mandelic acid as part of your nighttime routine, and slathering on the sunscreen in the day, can help minimise this.

Now you know what it is and how to use it, here are Dr Ashley’s top 3 mandelic acid products...
NeoStrata Mandelic Clarifying Cleanser 
This foaming gel cleanser removes dead calls and excess oils to leave skin feeling clean while improving skin texture.

PCA Skin Pore Refining Treatment 
This product uses physical, enzymatic and cellular exfoliation to help minimise the appearance of pores and absorb excess oil.

The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA
Budget-friendly, this serum is combined with hyaluronic acid meaning it’s perfect for those with very sensitive skin.

Emmaline Ashley, Aesthetic Doctor

I'm Dr Emmaline Ashley, the founder of Ashley Aesthetics. I'm passionate about beauty, wellness and science. I wanted...

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